If you are driving from Marrakech to Merzouga or M’Hamid, you will probably want to make a few stops. The route is longer than you think, and it makes sense to plan an overnight stay as well. I’ve put together a list of the best stops on the way to the desert.
You will pass some of them anyway, but for others, you will have to make a detour. And you can even visit a few of them if you are travelling by public transport. If you want to visit them all, you should plan at least 3 days for the route to Merzouga.
Best stops on the way from Marrakech to Ouarzazate
Tizi n’ Tichka Pass
The first stop on the way from Marrakech to the desert should definitely be the Tizi n’ Tichka Pass. It is the highest point of the crossing of the Atlas Mountains, and you have great views of the mountains and valleys here.
I think the Telouet Kasbah is one of the most worthwhile stops on the way into the desert. To get here, you have to leave the main road N09 after the Tichka Pass and follow the P1506. The Kasbah is marked in the right place on google.maps and you can park right there (for a few DH).
You pay an entrance fee of 20 DH, but it is really worth it. You can also book a guide for extra money, who has a lot to tell.
The Telouet Kasbah was built from 1860 onwards, during the time of the great caravans from the southern Sahara. It was the seat of the powerful El Glaoui family and rivalled the palaces of Marrakech in size and beauty.
Under the French, the Glaoui family made themselves unpopular among their people by being too politically close to the occupiers. This is one of the reasons why the Kasbah was left to decay for years.
Some parts have been restored in recent years, so you can at least get a glimpse of the building’s former splendour.
Ait Ben Haddou
Ait Ben Haddou was founded about 1000 years ago and used to be quite a rich town, as it was the first stop for all travellers and traders coming from the north through the Atlas Mountains. Due to the wealth, there was quite a need for fortifications and you can still see this on almost every building.
Since the great caravans became a thing of the past, the city lost its importance. But people quickly realised that life was easy in this area and Ait Ben Haddou remained inhabited until recently. It was added to the UNECSO World Heritage Sites list in 1987, and while increased tourism brought money, it also led to people moving to the ‘modern’ part of the town on the other side of the river.
Hotel Tip: Kasbah El Hajja, the only hotel in the old town
Ouarzazate Film Studios
Ouarzazate is rather boring as a town. But it is home to the largest (by sqm) film studios in the world. And they are well worth a visit. In the Atlas film studio, you can see sets from films and series such as Aladdin, Game of Thrones, Asterix and many more. You have to use one of their tours which start every 20 minutes and take around an hour.
Stops on the way into the desert to Merzouga
Skoura is known for its large number of more or less well-preserved kasbahs, quite a few of which now house hotels. Most of them are hidden among the palm trees, most of which are unfortunately withering away.
Hotel Tip: Chez Talout with amazing views over the oasis
Kelaat M’Gouna and Valley of the Roses
The Valley of the Roses lies behind Kelaat M’Gouna and is, in my opinion, the most beautiful of the valleys here. You can stay overnight in the village of Bou Thrarar and go for a hike or two from here.
Boumalne Dades and Dades Gorge
The Dades Gorge has become famous, especially on Instagram. At one point in the gorge, the road winds up the mountain in narrow switchbacks and from the top, you have a wonderful view of the trucks progressing at a snail’s pace. Much more beautiful is actually the rest of the valley with its many villages on the slopes and the green gardens along the river.
Hotel Tip: Riad Rihana Dades, a super nice hotel in the gorge
Tinghir and Todgha Gorge
The Todra Gorge is also most beautiful away from the tourist corner. This is a very narrow part of the gorge here, where unfortunately stalls and pushy guides spoil the picture.
But you can go climbing and/or abseiling here. And if you simply drive a little further into the gorge, you will also come to very beautiful sections of the valley where you are most likely alone.
Hotel Tip: Auberge Le Festival Todra Gorge, a great hotel with hot tub for colder nights
Fossil Museum Erfoud
On the way south, shortly after Erfoud, there is a very nice and informative fossil museum. You can’t miss it because there are some huge dinosaur skeletons in front of the building. In the museum you can find lots of fossils from the area, as the region used to be a coral reef millions of years ago.
Market in Rissani
On the way to Merzouga, you inevitably pass Rissani. Sunday is the big market day there and the town is full of people coming from the surrounding villages, riding donkeys or driving horse carts. You can buy everything there, from fruit and vegetables to donkeys and sheep. It’s really fun to watch the colourful hustle and bustle.
The region is also famous for its dates, and here at the market you can get a huge selection depending on the season.
Stops on the way to the desert to M’Hamid
Draa Valley near Zagora
The Draa Valley is largely dry from Zagora onwards, but between Ouarzazate and Zagora you can admire the millions of date palms that grow here. It is an impressive sight in the surrounding desert. There are various viewpoints along the road from which you can get a great view over the valley.
Hotel Tip: Dar Nekhla, hidden in the oasis
Tamegroute is famous for its pottery. The tiles made here are used for the roofs of mosques and other holy sites across Morocco. But there are also lots of household items made from the typical dark green clay that are sought-after souvenirs.
For more general information on Morocco, also check out these posts:
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